The visible increase of interest in analog pushed many audiophiles to have at least one vinyl scratching source in their audio systems. Some have it because they like to celebrate vinyl playing, others because it is something exotic, what they can use to impress their visitors and another group because you have to have it when you are an audiophile. It does not matter what is the reason for possessing a turntable, there is a common divider, namely a phonostage, which allows the vinyl spinning device to connect to the rest of the system. This device can be hidden inside the main amplifier or made by the enthusiast him or herself (DIY) or finally purchased from a renowned manufacturer, increasing the prestige of the system. It depends on the configuration of the audio gear and amount of money to spend. However many companies, large, known ones as well as newcomers to the audio market, noticed the demand and they propose to this third group of customers different solutions. Of course the big fishes are not easy to beat, and the newcomers have a hard time doing so. They cannot take a shortcut, they have to assess their strengths and choose their target wisely. And they need to propose something, that really stands out from the crowd, being just cheaper will not yield positive results.
People who know me, know also, that I have a weak spot for the turntable, and from time to time I receive a request from distributors to review a piece of gear from that area. As long as there is a slightest chance of hearing something interesting I eagerly comply, and place such device in my system. Having received propositions from a few renowned companies I was slowly preparing for this year’s Audio Show, while I received word from Moje Audio, who started to distribute in Poland products of the Korean brand Bakoon Products International. This company, which is new in Poland, offers different products, like: integrated amplifiers, battery power supplies, phonostages, headphone amplifiers and anti-vibration platforms. I decided not to wait and have my own opinion before the devices become more widely available on the market. The Korean manufacturer has two versions of the phono preamplifier, and I received the one marked “Reference”.
The SATRI Phono Preamplifier EQA-12R is rather small, but quite heavy (4kg) and is fully made from aluminum. It has a rectangular shape with rounded edges, with the design roughly similar to Mini-Mac computers from Apple. The cabinet is powder varnished black with a tangerine logo. The top and bottom covers are elongated at the back, what allowed to hide the necessary connectors on the back panel. The unit is as standard equipped with a dedicated anti-vibration platform, with quite high spikes. The whole is very appealing visually, so it should also have a high Wife Acceptance Factor (WAF). And please do not talk like “… it does not matter how it looks, it matters how it sounds!” because I have seen many times that people needed to resign from purchasing one or another superbly sounding piece of gear just due to external looks.
Returning to the hero of this text, even if you would not be convinced to its exterior design, it will soon fade, as after a few days you will surely notice the assets of this small product. The EQA-12R unit is equipped only with the basic connectors needed for proper operations: RCA inputs and outputs, ground bolt, power supply socket and BNC terminals for a connection to a Bakoon amplifier – a proprietary, current link designed by Bakoon to improve sonic capabilities of their products. On the left side there is a small switch, which turns the device on, while at the same time switching off the power supply unit, allowing the phonostage to work solely from the built-in batteries. And the engineers of Bakoon thought about the analog lovers, as only 5 hours of charging allows for 25 hours of uninterrupted joy of listening to vinyl. I can listen for half a night, but being able to do so for over 24 hours would probably be noted in the Guinness Book of Records, and I do not think, that somebody can exploit the full time of battery life the unit offers. Below the already mentioned orange logo on the fascia there is a LED indicator, which turns orange when operating and red while charging. Like I also mentioned, you cannot power the phonostage directly from a power supply, what shows the quite orthodox approach of the constructor to this product. The PSU is not very big, but as its role is ONLY to charge the batteries, this does not matter. The company logo is visible a second time on the top cover, this time milled in it. Despite the EQA-12R is a preamplifier capable of handling MM and MC cartridges, there is no switch outside to adjust the operating mode. All settings have to be done inside the unit, where, after unscrewing the bottom plate, you can adjust gain and cartridge type. This is a bit cumbersome, but usually this needs only to be done once, and it does not interfere with the sleek external design. It turned out, that the factory settings were ideal for my system, so I did not need to change any setting to start listening.
I was very curious, what was the thing, that enchanted the Wroclaw based in the Bakoon, so that he decided to introduce a completely new brand to the market, and that starting from a high level. However, I knew, that the owner of Moje Audio knows his ways round the analog, and easy tricks will not do for him, even if the designer of the circuitry is a Japanese engineer. Yes – this is true, the phonostage for Bakoon was designed in Japan. This does not necessarily mean anything, but the whole world is looking at them, knowing their love for beautiful things, especially music, and when they are doing something, usually their put in that all their knowledge and heart. After the initial talks with the distributors, about battery power and the anti-vibration platform, I was quite optimistic, but I allowed myself to filter everything through my very subjective point of view. Many times before, listening to a highly praised product turned out to be very disappointing, and resulting in a statement like “the device shows potential” based solely on sympathy with the distributor. However this time I hoped not to be forced to make any avoiding statements so I took a closer look at the EQA-12R.
Placing the first disc for rigorous listening I am often afraid of a total failure. After having listened to some brilliant preamplifiers I was wondering, how the tested unit will show itself. I always try to become a fan of the constructor of a given device, but if something goes wrong, I try to show where the problem is. Sometimes the final effect is subordinate to a certain lead idea, or to some technical solution, which often can be explained when using a complete system. In such cases remarks should be treated just as a hint, as to where a device differs in sound from the mainstream. In other words – sometimes a constructor gives his product a clear marking, aims it at a clearly defined group of listeners wanting a certain ‘sound’. It is clear, that each system is different, and the ways to achieve synergy are also different and defined by the audiophile himself. In case of the Japanese-Korean idea for the analog sound I did not hear anything that would not fit in the ‘canon’ of vinyl reproduction, what made me really happy. I started with a two-disc concert album, freshly pressed, of Enrico Ravy together with Stefano Bollani, Mark Turner, Larry Grenadier and Paul Motian called “New York Days”. I thought, that this well recorded material will allow to get acquainted with the tested device and have some kind of invitation for further listening. And I was not mistaken, I got an invitation for the first row, like a VIP. The musical event started at the line of the speakers, increasing palpability and realism of the instruments operated by the artists. At the same time there is no congestion of the depth of the scene, there is a lot of space for the second line of musicians. We could feel a clear gradation of the planes, capably drawn by the sound engineer. The tested phonostage sounds with a very mature, open and palpable sound; so involving, that already the first disc necessitated a comparison with the much more expensive RCM Theriaa (I will return to that later). The ease and openness of the EQA-12R in the upper range of sound spectrum results in an effect of air in the musical picture, which is not encountered very often, and at the same time it does not fall into a tiring offensiveness, which can introduce distortion. The midrange was also top notch, like the treble; this is a world of information against an absolutely black background. Saturation of the instruments gives a three-dimensional picture, in which we take part, here and now, where we get the musicians walking the stage exclusively for us. The surprisingly hard and low reaching bass is completing the whole, especially when a contrabass plays a prominent role. I tried also some of that placing on the platter the disc “December Poems” by Gary Peacock, who is aided by Jan Garbarek on the saxophone in some of the pieces. The melodic lines, unreachable for many contrabass players, were very readable, where the smallest picks, the strings stroking the neck became fully fledged elements of the mix and each accord was drawn with a hard and sharp line. The Korean preamplifier does not play with sound blurs, while at the same time it is not artificially sharp. It presents those aspect in a typical analog way, smooth and colorful. Regardless if the music recorded on the played vinyl discs was vocal, jazz or classical, everything was played back on an incredibly high quality level, achievable only for selected products. The virtual sources present on stage are perfectly placed between the loudspeakers, each being ideally delineated and having the distinct analog warmth. I could not catch the EQA-12R on having the treble sound ‘sandy’ or bass sound ‘rubbery’. Everything sounded just like the guy at the mixing table imagined it to sound. If the cymbals in free jazz have to be loud, they were loud, when Gary Peacock starts his part, we hear not only the body of the instrument, but also the strings touching the neck. And the midrange is not different than the rest, despite being very saturated there was not a slightest sign of any blurring. To verify that I asked Ms. Madelaine Peyroux for a recital from “Careless Love”. This material is recorded quite nasal what makes it a good test for the resolution of the tested unit. Another test was the audiophile pressing of Jacintha’s “Here’s To Ben” on double vinyl, which allows to control the state of the lungs of the vocalist, having recorded a lot of sounds, which remain hidden if a preamplifier has less than stellar resolution. Those tests confirmed my previous notes and made me write the following: “This is a very good gramophone preamplifier, putting the threshold very high.”
Like I already mentioned, the EQA-12R impressed me so much, that I decided to confront it with units from another league – the RCM Theriaa, which I still haven’t returned to the manufacturer, and residing freshly in my memory Phasemation. Theoretically the Korean phonostage had no chance of competing with the mentioned two products. But it was not so, it performed extremely well, especially against its price tag. The assets of the more expensive competition did not put it to shame, but only showed places, where some unexplored potential is hidden. If I would need to describe how the Bakoon deals with the sound, I would say its openness is somewhere between the Japanese Phasemation and the Polish RCM. Unfortunately both competitors show, where the sound can be ‘boosted’ more, presenting the musical material with more breath and freedom, on a vast sound stage, which seems to be contained only by the walls behind the loudspeakers. The Japanese preamplifier has a resolution close to the best digital sources, while still having the natural warmth and smoothness. The Polish Theriaa sounds heavier, darker, with an analog tissue, which we can admire when the accompanying system is good enough. Additionally the Phasemation and RCM have a rarely encountered airiness, which enchants us increasing the three-dimensionality of the virtual sources. This is really rare, but when present, the only way to resign from such kind of sound is not to have enough funds to buy such a device.
For many readers the remarks above may be regarded as small things, but yet those tiny items are the main cost driver. However looking at the price-performance ration, the Bakoon Products International phonostage has a big advantage. It sounds open, with saturated colors, inviting us to VIP places in the musical event reproduced – while costing significantly less than the two compared products. In high-end small steps towards improvement of the sound cost a lot, and we should opt to buy the best things we can, when we have enough funding. But having 19500 zlotys we have here a very strong candidate for purchase, which will not be easy to beat. I would recommend all audiophiles looking for an interesting phonostage to contact the Polish distributor, Moje Audio, and ask about the SATRI Phono Preamplifier EQA-12R.
Distributor: Moje Audio
Price:19 500 zł
Input: MC (EQA-12) / MC lub MM (EQA-12R)
Input impedance: 10 Ω (MC) / 47 kΩ (MM)
Output: 1 SATRI-LINK (BNC), 1 Voltage (RCA)
Gain: High / Medium / Low jumper selectable)
Battery type: Li-ion
Battery Operate Time: 25 hours approx.
Battery Recharge Time: 5 hours approx.
Dimensions: 195 mm (W) x 195 mm (D) x 40.5 mm (H)
Weight: 4.0 kg
The system used in the test, a complete set of Combak Corporation.
- Separate DAC + CD player: CDT - 777 + DAP - 999 EX
- Tube preamp: CAT - 777 MK II
- Solid state power amp: KAP - 777
Speakers: Bravo Consequence +
Power cables: Harmonix X-DC-350M2R Improved Version
Speaker Cables: Harmonix HS 101-EXQ (mid-high section); Harmonix HS-101 SLC (Section woofer)
IC RCA Harmonix HS 101-GP
Digital IC: Harmonix HS 102
Table: Rogoz Audio
Accessories: Antivibration stand for the power amp by Harmonix TU-505EX MK2, Harmonix Enacom improved for AC 100-240V; Harmonix Tuning Room Mini Disk RFA-80i
drive: Dr. Feickert Analogue "Twin"
arm: SME V
cartridge: Dynavector XX-2 MK II
- Phonostage: RCM „THERIAA”
Original article link
Matej Isak. Mono and Stereo ultra high end audio magazine. All rights reserved. 2006-2013. www.monoandstereo.com. ..:: None of the original text, pictures, that were taken by me, links or my original files can be re-printed or used in any way without prior permission! ::..